Obama Health Secretary: ‘We’ve Got a Lot of Reeducation to Do’

By Dschabner

Aug 31, 2010 12:01am

ABC News' Steven Portnoy reports:

As a widely-watched survey shows support for the new health care reform law slipping, the leader in the reform effort says the administration has “a lot of reeducation to do” to reverse the trend.

The poll, from the Kaiser Family Foundation, shows more Americans now oppose the reform law than favor it, 45 percent to 43 percent, reflecting a seven-point drop in support from the organization’s last survey, released in late July. 

Since the law’s passage in late March, the monthly Kaiser survey has been highlighted by backers of health care reform as evidence of increasing support for the measures, as it suggested a slight upward tick in the number of Americans embracing the reforms -– rising as high as 50 percent in last month’s poll.  Now, much of the gains have been erased.

The current survey shows only 39 percent of Americans believe the country will be “better off” under the health care reforms, a new low in this poll.  Slightly more than half of those questioned say they’re disappointed in the new law.

In an ABC News/Washington Post poll taken in July, 50 percent of Americans disapproved of the president’s handling of health care, with 45 percent saying they approved.  Those who disapproved did so more strongly than those who favored the Obama administration’s actions.

In an interview before the latest Kaiser results were released, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told ABC News that the sustained opposition to the Democrats’ health care reform efforts has mainly been a function of “misinformation.”

“Unfortunately there still is a great deal of confusion about what is in [the reform law] and what isn’t,” Sebelius told ABC News Radio on Monday. 

With several vulnerable House Democrats now touting their votes against the bill, and Republicans running on repeal of the law, Sebelius said “misinformation given on a 24/7 basis” has led to the enduring opposition nearly six months after the lengthy debate ended in Congress. 

“We have a lot of reeducation to do,” Sebelius said.

The administration is particularly concerned about the views of senior citizens, who “have been a target of a lot of the misinformation,” according to the health secretary.

As of this week, 1 million seniors have received $250 rebate checks to help them fill the “donut hole” in Medicare’s prescription drug coverage.  Sebelius says by the end of the year, as many as 4 million Part D participants may get checks.

“Once people understand that [the rebate checks are] just one of the new features for Medicare beneficiaries, they become increasingly more enthusiastic,” Sebelius told ABC News.

Kaiser reported last month that among those 65 years and older, 43 percent said in July that Medicare would be “worse off” under the reforms, compared to 25 percent who said the program would be “better off.”

Sebelius says she understands the concerns of American seniors.

“They’re worried about what happens to their benefits in the future, worried about what happens to the overall stability of Medicare.”

The secretary says she “strongly” disagrees with what her immediate predecessor, former Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed last week, suggesting the changes to Medicare in the health care law merely create the “illusion” of reform.

“It does not ease cost pressures but papers over them with unsustainable price controls,” Leavitt wrote.

Sebelius argues the reforms “strengthen” Medicare, extending its solvency by 12 years through 2029.

“My view is actually supported by independent actuaries, by economists and by the Congressional Budget Office,” Sebelius said.

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